by Sanaz Cordes, MD
The year was early 2000-something, and having just graduated from residency, pumped with the confidence of wearing the latest and greatest pediatric knowledge as a badge of honor, I sauntered into the hospital and began my first day as a practicing pediatric hospitalist.
Surrounded by some (not all) young, invincible physician peers who scoffed at the “old-fashioned” doctors coding “archaic” ICD-9s and using “prairie medicine” when so much cooler, modern stuff was available, I found myself getting sucked into this “elite” club that often sustained itself on black coffee served with a heaping dose of smugness.
Outrage was expressed at what was perceived to be unnecessary nursing calls, indignant grumblings were shared about pharmacists who called to check prescription doses, and a belief persisted that graduating at the top of the class meant knowing all one needs to know in order to do the job as well, if not better, than the generation of docs before us.
Well... we all had our moments of eating humble pie. Mine came in the form of my first Coombs positive newborn with rapidly rising, dangerous bilirubin levels in the middle of the night. Suddenly, my mouth was dry, my brain was racing, and everything I had read in books seemed to have seeped out of my ears. “I need a doctor,” I thought frantically. Swallowing my pride, I picked up the phone and called Dr. Saunders, a pediatrician 35 years my senior, and gratefully listened and took notes as he kindly walked me through the case.
Fast forward more than 15 years, and I find myself repeatedly drawing an analogy between new physician graduates and bright, young entrepreneurs in their first foray into healthcare sales. Having been in this rodeo for so long, I have the scars to prove that it’s not an easy industry. Being on the provider and health system administrator side was hard enough, but it wasn’t until I moved into healthcare sales and ultimately helped launch a seed-stage startup to success that I realized that so many brilliant, product-knowledgeable entrepreneurs, much like young physicians, don’t know what they don’t know.
Now, I don’t say that with any judgment or ridicule. I mean that they literally don’t know what they don’t know. And why should they? They’ve dedicated their young lives to improving the quality of healthcare. They know that their product, will save money and improve efficiency. They know the dream... but they don’t know that they don’t know how to make it a reality in the complex world of enterprise-wide healthcare sales. A world of regulations, compliance issues, patient safety, HIPAA, physician cultural challenges, and a snail’s pace sales cycle.
They have never worked with sales executives, and often equate the word “sales person” with a cross between Alec Baldwin in “Glengarry Glen Ross” and Kurt Russel in “Used Cars.” To them, marketing and evangelism are “nice to have,” sales people are an unfamiliar breed, innovative and cost-effective lead generation models are risky, and the high cost of outside sales folks carrying a bag is startling. These unfamiliar concepts often cause these brilliant, yet healthcare-naive, tech founders to recoil.
They are bravely building disruptive offerings to disrupt the status quo... and that DNA is priceless and rare. But, having lived in the physician, administrator, sales executive, and health IT startup worlds, my earnest advice to these brilliant young men and women is this: The nurse who calls twice to verify the IV fluid orders, the pharmacist who calls to verify milligrams not micrograms, and the floor secretary that texts to confirm your order for CT without contrast (instead of with)... they may not have the same DNA as you, but they’ve walked the path much longer than you.... They just wear different shoes. They are here to help you, teach you, and spare you from the bumps and bruises that you don’t have to endure.
The best doctors, much like the best entrepreneurs, surround themselves with the best talent they can find. People with proven track records of success to build and execute strategies that the bright entrepreneur does not have. And then they will trust their decision and allow these experts to do their job – no matter how uncomfortable or scary it may be, at first.
Much more to come in Part II of the “Entrepreneur’s Quandary”, soon…